The question of whether bed-sharing with an infant is a parenting necessity or a potentially deadly practice is ongoing among parents and some experts. On the one hand, bringing the baby to bed with mom and dad can make breastfeeding more convenient and make it easier to comfort the little one back to sleep during the night. But the experts of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) believe the practice is unsafe and contributes to sleep-related deaths among infants, such as SIDS and suffocation. So, the academy's updated co-sleeping guidelines work to promote safe sleeping practices while acknowledging the exhausting reality of parenting infants.
The AAP updated its sleep recommendations in October 2016, encouraging parents to have their babies sleep in the same room as them for the first six months, and ideally for up to a year, to reduce the risk of sudden infant deaths. The key is that the little ones should be close by but not too close by, as babies should snooze on their own sleep surfaces, like cribs or bassinets. Truly safe sleep environments follow the recommendations to make sudden, preventable deaths less likely: "Avoid use of soft bedding, including crib bumpers, blankets, pillows and soft toys. The crib should be bare." Nothing but a firm mattress and a tightly fitted sheet is ideal.
But the same room-separate beds scenario is just that: an ideal. With its updated recommendations, the AAP showed that it understands this, which is why the new guidelines include suggestions for co-sleeping. As guidelines co-author and professor of pediatrics Lori Feldman-Winter told NPR, the AAP determined that it was important to ensure that health care providers and families could have "open and nonjudgmental conversations" about infant sleep arrangement — with the ultimate goal of mitigating risks, of course.
To that end, the AAP now encourages nursing moms to breastfeed on their beds, rather than a couch or armchair, if they think there's even the slightest chance that they will fall asleep while doing so. That's because even the bed is considered safer than those alternatives. "If you do fall asleep, as soon as you wake up be sure to move the baby to his or her own bed," Feldman-Winter said in the academy's announcement of its new guidelines. "There should be no pillows, sheets, blankets or other items that could obstruct the infant's breathing or cause overheating."
Some moms and experts insist that babies actually sleep better in bed with Mom and Dad, but tragedies like that of the mom whose baby suffocated after she fell asleep while nursing in bed serve as awful cautionary tales. Some states have started giving out portable cardboard "Baby Boxes" to sway parents away from bed-sharing, but there are questions about the safety of those, too.
It seems the best way to keep your baby safe is to follow the AAP's co-sleeping recommendations as closely as possible. Knowing that your baby is safely tucked away on his or her firm mattress can help to give you the peace of mind you need.